With just one side-glance and a grin, Dylan Patterson could make you glad to be alive. He was young and handsome, quick witted and happy. I don’t know if the Lord lingered just a little more over the possibilities of this one, but Dylan got all the demure graces of awesome. He was that guy – made every team, got the girl, went to college, shined in business. He was loved by everyone who knew him. My wife, Stefanie, and I were particularly fond of him.
I spoke at his funeral this week.
Amidst the news of hurricanes and earthquakes and the latest accusations of civic turpitude, a few stories about heroin have managed to raise a peep in the public din. Yet heroin is ravaging our land like a tsunami or a plague. The vast number of its dead dwarf those tragically lost to hurricanes and earthquakes, and the silence of those dead should at least muffle the shrill sentiments of the idolized, bruised by national anthem. Dylan is counted among heroin’s dead. He is the seventh man Stef and I have known who has used and died in the last four months alone.
While I am calling this heroin’s tsunami of death, fentanyl is responsible for the wave’s acceleration and stunning intensity. Fentanyl was developed as a synthetic opioid in 1960, and began being widely used in patches to treat cancer patients in the mid-1990’s. It is one hundred times more powerful than morphine, and it is amazingly cheap to produce. The formula made its way to China, however. Now, anyone can get pounds of it in the mail for a few hundred dollars. I’m not kidding!
When packages of fentanyl are discovered (often in post offices), police wear hazmat suits to handle them. A tiny dusting on the skin can kill. The enterprising dealers, who cut fentanyl for its mixture with heroin, are ill equipped to adequately dilute it. Those who use it often die immediately. Often, the dead are found where they were the moment they used - slumped over the wheel at traffic lights or in parking lots, on the floor in public restrooms.
Dylan’s body was found in his dad’s basement. He had spent that morning volunteering at City Lights, a ministry in Winston Salem, where he had only recently been able to bring himself to share his story with a group of teens. I knew Dylan as a sober, alert and gentle man of God. He had been clean for nearly a year when he died. Whether he was happy or sad, or for some other reason, the siren song of that feeling, that ever present and deadly call, was too much for Dylan to resist. He is gone – “and oh, the difference to me!”